In the current economic climate, employment practices that help employees balance work and family issues are more important than ever, according to several reports recently released by the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Jacques Barrette, professor at the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management is the author of Work/Family Balance: What do we really know? Barrette says, "Despite the discussions and publicity on the practices put forward by numerous organizations, the work/family conflict has progressively worsened in the last 10 years."

Among his findings:

  • 44% of Canadians feel that their work has a negative impact on their family as economic, technological, and social changes have profoundly altered the workplace and created conditions that heighten pressure on parents and their children.
  • Management practices designed to increase productivity and competitiveness can lead to work overload. The internet, cell phones and BlackBerries keep people more connected but at the same time allow work to encroach further into family life.
  • The percentage of parents who have a hard time juggling work and family has steadily risen since 1996 and now sits at between 46% and 61%.

Family Life and Work Life: An Uneasy Balance by Roger Sauvé President, People Patterns Consulting tracks key employment indicators which also underline that family time has suffered at the expense of work time.

Sauvé estimates that over the past two decades Canadians are spending about five weeks less each year with their families, due to work-related issues. More people are working overtime, commutes are longer and businesses are constantly reorganizing and restructuring to increase efficiency.

He points out that these and other changes are leading to more employee dissatisfaction, and more days absent due to illness and family reasons; absenteeism which is costing the Canadian economy between $3 to $5 billion dollars a year.

In addition to highlighting the problems, each of these research reports puts forward solid recommendations for governments, employers and individual Canadians; actions that can be positive steps to restore this necessary balance between work and family life.

"Within the context of the current recession, with much focus understandably on the loss of jobs, work-life balance can easily take a back seat to other issues around the corporate board table. However, that would be a mistake," says Vanier Institute of the Family Executive Director Clarence Lochhead. "The success of our businesses and security of our jobs ultimately depends on a healthy and sustainable relationship between work life and family life. That's as true in tough economic times as it is in good times."